How to extract açaí without destroying the Amazon

Minimal impact management shows that it is possible to meet global demand without harming forests

The pulp of this round, purplish berry that grows on palm trees Euterpe oleracea, a species native to the northern region of Brazil, was already a daily meal for local riverside populations before becoming popular with consumers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Pulp consumption in these regions exploded in the late 1990s and it didn't take long for it to start being sold in the United States and other countries as well. To meet the high demand, both the exploitation of native açaí groves and the area planted with açaí grew.

The fruit has an enormous potential to generate income for the local population, but the disorderly increase in its planting can, in the long run, turn into a shot in the foot (of the producer and the açaí), compromising the environment and the perspective of income. A recent study by the biologist from Pará Madson Freitas, published in the journal Biological conservation, and theme of article in UOL, identified several environmental problems linked to the growth of production and consumption. 

There are, however, alternatives: with the organization of the production chain and a management system with minimal impact, it is possible to combine the environment, preservation and income. One of the projects on which Instituto Interelos works, along with other partners, is the institutional strengthening of Amazonbai, the Cooperativa dos Produtores Agroextrativistas do Bailique and Beira Amazonas.

In the same week that the issue of the environmental impact of açaí circulated in the press, Amazonbai renewed the FSC® – Forest Stewardship Council® Chain of Custody certification (FSC-C131371). This seal means that from the harvest of the fruit to the processing of the pulp in the agroindustry, the cooperative members follow guidelines for forest management with minimal impact and establish production control procedures that guarantee the traceability of açaí from the forest to the final consumer.

Amazonbai is the first organization in Brazil to use the FSC® Ecosystem Services procedure to verify its positive impacts on the maintenance of carbon stocks and protection of biodiversity. It is a guarantee of a product of the natural environment that has the human being as the main beneficiary while preserving the services provided by the forest to society. In practice, the benefits include improved management and documentation of the organization, advances in health and safety at work, increased transparency and dialogue with stakeholders and stakeholders affected by management.

Also in this region, where a boat trip between a producing community and the capital, Macapá, can last up to twelve hours by boat, Instituto Interelos works on an additional dimension: education. With the strengthening of local schools and the use of a specific pedagogy, it is possible to train young people with technical knowledge and leadership skills, contributing to their permanence in the countryside. This is how both the forest and the native populations stand, the future of the region and the scale supply of a Brazilian delicacy to the world.

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